England v Argentina, Twickenham, November 14
England target much-needed win
Graham Jenkins
November 13, 2009
England Martin Johnson watches over training, Pennyhill Park, Surrey, England, November 11, 2009
England manager Martin Johnson is running out of time to cement his coaching credentials © Getty Images

England entertain Argentina at Twickenham on Saturday with the hosts under increasing pressure to return to winning ways and silence their critics.

Martin Johnson's side impressed all too briefly on their way to defeat against Australia last weekend but it was their failure to muster any significant attack and their general lack of a cutting edge that left the biggest question marks.

England are sorely in need of a morale-boosting win and more forgiving opposition than the Wallabies. Although the Pumas were once fodder for most they are no longer pushovers - far from it. They are a growing force on the international stage, no strangers to victory at Twickenham, and will soon be joining their southern hemisphere rivals on a regular basis in an expanded Tri-Nations competition.

Argentina's victory at England's HQ in 2006 was a clear sign of things to come and a dazzling display at the 2007 Rugby World Cup followed while more recently the Pumas shared the spoils in a two-Test series with Johnson's side in the summer. That victory in Salta in June leaves Santiago Phelan's side on the brink of historic back-to-back victories and sets up a mouth-watering contest.

Sadly the occasion has been stripped of many of its leading lights. England's injury woes have been well-documented with fullback Delon Armitage and centre Riki Flutey just two creative voids yet to be adequately filled. The Pumas are also reeling from the loss of playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez and this weekend's fixture has come too soon for fly-half Felipe Contepomi.

But it is up front where this match will no doubt be decided. England held their own against the Wallabies last time out but an experienced Pumas pack featuring the likes of Rodrigo Roncero, Patricio Albacete and captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe will be an equal if not stiffer test. That prospect and the pressure to show that they really know what to do with the ball in hand should see England adopt a more expansive game.

To that likely end, Johnson has a couple of significant changes to his side with the introduction of Dylan Hartley at hooker and James Haskell at No.8 but their best efforts may be subdued by the rain predicted to hit south west London. The resurgent Haskell impressed in his cameo against the Wallabies and will no doubt be charged with producing more of the same on Saturday. Johnson and his attack coach Brian Smith saw enough promise from their backline to hand them a second chance with the exception of scrum-half Danny Care who makes way for Paul Hodgson but only time will tell if he can conjure the quick clean ball that was missing against Australia.

The relatively inexperienced Santiago Fernandez takes the Pumas' No.10 shirt in the absence of his more illustrious countrymen while Martin Rodriguez also profits due to injury and starts in the centre alongside Harlequins' Gonzalo Tiesi. But it is with a world-class front row featuring Roncero, Mario Ledesma and Martin Scelzo that the visitors will look to do much of their talking.

Despite their growing reputation and their lofty place in the largely academic IRB World Rankings, where they sit two places above their hosts, Argentina enter this clash as underdogs and with little to lose. England on the other hand find themselves staring down the barrel. The players - and the management team - must show that they are capable of learning from their mistakes and demonstrate they are moving forward and not laterally or backwards as was the case last weekend.

Shorn of two of their most potent attacking weapons the Pumas may lack the guile to accompany the formidable grunt of their pack while England will look to their own talisman in fly-half Jonny Wilkinson to steer them to a much-needed win. The Toulon No.10 returned to England colours last weekend and looked very much at home despite his latest 18 month lay-off and having shaken off the rust we can expect further improvement with his boot almost certainly set to prove - not for the first or last time - the key to releasing the pressure valve. But those around him need to raise their game significantly with the likes of Shane Geraghty, Dan Hipkiss and Matt Banahan under the microscope.

Up front Lewis Moody looked hungry against the Wallabies and with Tom Croft and Haskell alongside the England backrow looks impressive on paper and captain Steve Borthwick and second row colleague Louis Deacon can reflect on a sound lineout display in their opener.

With the All Blacks heading to Twickenham next weekend it does not take a genius to pinpoint this clash as England's best chance of tasting success. Defeat would put Johnson on course for another disastrous autumn campaign and only a convincing victory will serve to reassure those who doubt his credentials.

As a player Johnson would thrive on such a scenario and lift not only his game but that of his team-mates. On this occasion he must summon a Herculean effort with words alone and hope his charges deliver a face-saving performance that buys him time to build for bigger challenges to come.

England: Ugo Monye (Harlequins); Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks), Dan Hipkiss (Leicester Tigers), Shane Geraghty (Northampton Saints), Matt Banahan (Bath); Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Paul Hodgson (London Irish); Tim Payne (London Wasps), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Duncan Bell (Bath), Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers), Steve Borthwick (Saracens, capt), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), Lewis Moody (Leicester Tigers), James Haskell (Stade Francais)

Replacements: Steve Thompson (CA Brive), Paul Doran-Jones (Gloucester), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Worsley (London Wasps), Danny Care (Harlequins), Andy Goode (CA Brive), Ayoola Erinle (Biarritz Olympique)

Argentina: Horacio Agulla; Lucas Borges, Gonzalo Tiesi, Martin Rodriguez, Mauro Comuzzi; Santiago Fernandez, Alfredo Lalanne; Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma, Martin Scelzo, Esteban Lozada, Patricio Albacete, Tomas Leonardi, Alfredo Abadie, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (capt)

Replacements: Alberto Vernet Basualdo, Marcos Ayerza, Manuel Carizza, Alejandro Campos, Agustin Figuerola, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Federico Martin Aramburu

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

Assistant referees: Alan Lewis (Ireland), Peter Allan (Scotland)
Television Match Official: Hugh Watkins (Wales)

© Scrum.com

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